The EFJ calls for stronger measures to tackle online platforms’ disinformation
The undersigned members of the Sounding Board (“SB”) of the Multistakeholder Forum on disinformation online (representatives from media, civil society, journalists – including the European Federation of Journalists -, and academia) thank the European Commission for highlighting the crucial role of free and independent media, journalists and academia in the fight against online disinformation during the Covid-19 crisis. The undersigned are alarmed by the rise in online disinformation during the pandemic and call for much stronger measures to apply to the Platforms that are co-signatories of the Code of Practice (CoP). The Sounding Board notably calls for more ambitious proposals in line with the European Commission’s own assessment report (VVA) and ERGA’s assessment on the Code of Practice (CoP).
The SB notes that several European and national authorities have come to identical conclusions concerning the CoP. The instrument, while initiating an important dialogue and assessment period, has shown to be inadequate to address the source and drivers of disinformation propagated online as foreseen in the SB’s assessment of the CoP. This in the context of Covid-19 where online disinformation has thrived, having a devastating impact on public health efforts.
The Sounding Board as such calls for progress on five dimensions – set out below – to support the fight against what the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) has coined an infodemic. A number of analyses at European and national level – regulators, legislators, academics, news professionals paint a concerning picture that requires more than just reporting obligations. The Covid crisis has accelerated and magnified the impact of disinformation online, sometimes with deadly impact. There is an urgent need for effective instruments to better assess and successfully tackle the issue.
We note the announcements and modifications made by signatories of the code of practice in regard to fighting disinformation related to Covid-19 on their networks. This demonstrates that, where willingness is present, these actors can deploy solutions at scale to curb harmful content on their networks. It also demonstrates Europe’s over-reliance on the good will of systemic players on vital issues. Terms of service and community guidelines cannot be a valid substitute for laws that are inherent to maintaining democratic discourse and public safety.
As such we call on European policy-makers to ensure the following measures are put in place:
- Transparency and access to data obligations. The lack of transparency, access to relevant/useful datasets, third party oversight has been a major impediment. Transparency and how it is delivered is a corner stone to achieve any progress on independently assessing disinformation, its effects and the effectiveness of measures in place.
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Strong indicators as part of the assessment tools used need to effectively describe meaningful progress within and between platforms signed up to the CoP.
- Co-regulation. Is welcome whereby the CoP did not constitute self-regulation, so this is a step in the right direction towards better oversight and incentives to effect change for the platforms that are co-signatories to the CoP. Co-regulation must ensure in its application that it boosts rather than penalises media; i.e. the measures in place should ensure journalistic freedom, fundamental rights and editorial freedom are guaranteed.
- Sanctions. A meaningful sanctions regime should be put in place to ensure the co-signatories of the CoP have an incentive to act. This will also allow for a co-regulatory process that is financially self- sufficient rather than resting on public contributions.
- Structured Dialogue. We have seen a number of Commissioners reaching out to individual signatories of the CoP. We would highlight the need for this conversation to be opened up as part of a structured dialogue with regular consultations including with the regulators (ERGA).
The SB looks forward to working with European policymakers and regulators to ensure a meaningful and impactful set of measures that will effectively tackle online disinformation.
- Association of Commercial Television in Europe, Grégoire Polad, Director General
- European Federation of Journalists, Renate Schroeder, Director
- European Publishers Council, Angela Mills Wade, Executive Director
- Gianni Riotta, professor Princeton University, Director of the Data lab at LUISS Guido University School of Government, Rome
- News Media Europe, Wout van Wijk, Executive Director
- Oreste Pollicino, Professor of Constitutional Law, Bocconi University
- Ravi Vatrapu, Loretta Rogers Chair & Professor, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University – Sounding Board Spokesperson